With free agency looming in March, roster turnover isn't far away. However, the majority of the 2019 roster is already in place. In the coming weeks, DallasCowboys.com will feature players who are currently under contract for next season, analyzing their past season and their future prospects.
Today, we continue the series with defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence.
What's Been Good: The current state of Lawrence's contract negotiations showcase exactly what's been good these last two years – almost everything. Coming off an injury-plagued 2016 season, Lawrence ripped off a fantastic 14.5-sack season in 2017, earning himself the franchise tag in the process. Rather than hold out for a long-term deal, he happily signed the tag and set about making himself the physical and emotional leader of the Dallas defense. The strategy paid off in a big way, as the Cowboys finished seventh in overall defense and sixth in scoring defense, while Lawrence earned a second Pro Bowl bid with 10.5 sacks. It took Lawrence some time to flourish, but the former second-round draft pick has developed into one of the team's best players as he enters the prime of his career.
What's Been Bad: Well, for starters, he's not currently under contract. The Cowboys placed another franchise tag on Lawrence last month, and he immediately made it clear he has no intention of playing nice this time. The 26-year-old has not signed the tag, and he intends to stay away from team activities until a long-term deal is reached. From the sounds of it, Lawrence is even avoiding having an anticipated shoulder surgery until he gets a new deal. That's where the negotiations come in to play. The franchise tag ensures that Lawrence is due for $20.5 million this year – so any long-term contract would have to pay a similar amount per year, if not significantly more. Chief operating officer Stephen Jones said the two sides were at an "impasse," and it's hard to say when that might change. As for on-field performance, Lawrence has been one of the best on the roster these past two years – although it's worth noting he has dealt with shoulder injuries in both 2016 and 2018. Perhaps his durability is one of the things giving the Cowboys pause in deciding whether or not to break the bank?
2018 Highlight: There are plenty to choose from. Lawrence had a three-sack performance against Detroit, and he had a fourth-down stop on the goal line against Alvin Kamara in the win against New Orleans. But the game that really encapsulated his abilities was probably the Thanksgiving win against Washington. Lawrence did it all, finishing with three tackles, a half-sack and three hits on quarterback Colt McCoy. If that wasn't enough, he read McCoy's eyes on a pass to the flat, tipped the pass into the air and came down with his first career interception. He was disruptive in every possible way in an eventual 31-23 win.
What's Next: The answer to this question will carry huge ramifications for the Cowboys in the future. Team officials have stated time and time again that they have every intention of signing Lawrence to a long-term deal. If that happens, he'll certainly become one of the league's highest-paid defenders and the focal point of the Dallas defense for the foreseeable future. But when will it happen? The longer Lawrence waits to have surgery on his shoulder, the more likely it is that he'll miss time due to injury – and Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones has stated before how important Lawrence's health is to any potential contract agreement. The team traded for Robert Quinn last week, which would help them offset that problem, but it still prompts questions about what's going to happen with Lawrence. Would the Cowboys be willing to trade him, rather than be hamstrung by this contract negotiation? What could they even get for him if he isn't 100 percent healthy? It's a murky situation to put it mildly, and the only people who know the full story are the two sides trying to come to an agreement. It seems plausible that Lawrence will eventually sign a long-term contract with the Cowboys – but when? And how healthy will he be when he does?
Bryan Broaddus' Bottom Line: DeMarcus Lawrence is one of the best examples in the history of this organization of: draft a player, develop the player, then sign the player. Lawrence has the right, through his play both as a pass rush and run defender, to demand a significant contact. He is as rare as they come when playing the position -- especially on that left side. There are very few names in the history of the league when you're talking about rushers from that side. Reggie White and Michael Strahan fit that bill during my days of scouting. Both White and Strahan are Hall of Fame players, so putting Lawrence in that type of company is not something I take lightly. My point is that it shouldn't be far-fetched for Lawrence to be one of the highest-paid players at his position. What he does on the field and in the locker room once again reflects the type of player that this organization is trying to build with. The Cowboys want to build around guys that play hard and are great teammates, and Lawrence is both of those. The front office has done a great job of assembling talent throughout the roster, but without knowing what they have offered and what Lawrence's side has countered with, it's hard to point the finger at either side. What I do know is that if they can't come to a deal then the "draft, develop and sign" model has its flaws and that's a shame -- especially with a player that has the talent of DeMarcus Lawrence.